The No. 9 ASU women's water polo team's season unexpectedly ended after it pulled out of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Conference tournament due to positive COVID-19 tests.
Without ASU competing this weekend, the likelihood of reaching the NCAA tournament isn't very high, which means their 2022 campaign would come to an end.
After entering the season at No. 4 in the nation, finishing outside the bracket isn't where this team saw themselves.
"This team has been through a lot of adversity and a lot of hurdles," said graduate student Amira Van Buren. "We've worked really hard to push through a lot of different things. While the regular season didn't go as we planned, I think that these past few weeks, we've really showed the type of team that we could have been and that we are."
When the season started, ASU went 0-4 in its first tournament to start the year. Since then, the team rebounded to finish the year with a 14-11 record and 2-4 conference record.
After a tough start against conference opponents, they finished the season by taking No. 3 UCLA to double overtime and No. 2 Stanford two within two goals for most of the contest. They finished the regular season by defeating No. 15 Indiana on Senior Day.
"Those were some of the most fun games I've played all season long," Van Buren said. "Even though we didn't win, it just felt like we were a unit, like the coaches and the players were all working together and were all having fun. No matter what was happening at any given point, we were going to do it together. And it didn't matter, win or lose."
Those last three games came after the departure of former head coach Todd Clapper, who had been with the program since 2005. Interim head coach Petra Pardi took the reins in late March with just three games remaining in the season. Despite the abrupt change, the team adapted and played very well down the stretch.
"It went really smooth," said freshman Vanda Baksa. "We know Petra and everybody loves Petra. I think everybody's happy about this change and can't wait to play together again."
The team's strengths came on the offensive end. The team scored 302 goals over the 25-game season, averaging out to 12.08 goals per game. The team shared the wealth when scoring, as every single field player scored a goal on the year and amassed 222 assists as a unit.
That doesn't mean the Sun Devils didn't have star power, and its brightest star was freshman phenom Baksa. She came to ASU from Budapest, Hungary, and broke freshman goals, assists and points records. She finished the season with 73 goals, 49 assists and 122 points. She scored in the team's final 17 games and had a streak of nine straight hat-tricks. She finished the season as the MPSF Newcomer Of The Year and as part of the All-MPSF second team and MPSF All-Newcomer Team.
"She's (Baksa) been a key part of our team, not only just because she scores a lot, but she also sees the pool really well," Van Buren said. "She knows how to find her teammates and score. She's also really good on the defensive end. I think she just brought a really good presence for us in the water."
Baksa wasn't the only one to come away with individual hardware this year. Van Buren and junior Lara Kiss earned All-MPSF Honorable Mentions at the end of the season. Van Buren finished her final year at ASU with 37 goals and three assists. Kiss finished with 13 goals and 41 assists while also leading the team in steals with 37.
"It was well deserved for all three of them," Pardi said. "They have done so much for us both defensively and offensively. We relied on them so much this season. It is an amazing achievement to put ASU on that tier."
With the 2022 season likely over, the Sun Devils wouldn't say they live up to their expectations. The program has yet to announce next year's head coach and will lose Van Buren, who has been a captain for the past three seasons, graduate student Emily Bennett and seniors Blaire McDowell, Borbala Kekesi and Emma Fraser.
Walker Smith is a sports editor in the digital department of the State Press. He has previously worked as a reporter on the sports desk and works for Blaze Radio and interned at Big Slate Media in broadcast productions.